The Stranglers

Stranglers & Friends Live in Concert

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On November 1, 1979, Stranglers frontman Hugh Cornwell was arrested for possession of drugs and, the following spring, was sentenced to eight weeks imprisonment, on the eve of the band's latest tour. A Far Eastern visit was canceled, but a pair of shows at London's Rainbow Theatre went ahead, with the absent vocalist/guitarist replaced by a plethora of guest stars -- the Cure's Robert Smith and Mathieu Hartley, Robert Fripp, Steel Pulse's Basil Gabbidon, the Skids' Richard Jobson, the Pink Fairies' Larry Wallis, and more were all on hand to transform what could have been a very somber occasion indeed into a wild celebration of the Stranglers' story so far. Eschewing their regular live set, the three remaining Stranglers instead compiled a veritable greatest-hits collection, from first-LP-era material that hadn't been aired in at least two years through to their most recent 45, "Bear Cage." Then it was simply a matter of matching the guests with the songs -- and that worked out pretty well, too. Actor Phil Daniels spits so much Cockney scorn onto "Dead Loss Angeles" that the original version sounds positively polite by comparison and Peter Hammill brings new depths of foreboding to "The Raven," while Hazel O'Connor's assaults on "Grip" and "Hanging Around" might sound a little precocious today, but do recall a time when she was considered the height of art-pop sophistication. So, back then, was Toyah Willcox, so it's both refreshing and surprising to encounter her first contribution, a duet with a suitably lascivious-sounding Ian Dury on a blisteringly blockheaded version of "Peaches." Indeed, by the time you reach the closing "Down in the Sewer," with the entire ensemble on-stage to relish the rats, so many reputations have either been made or reconfigured that you'll never look at these idols the same way again -- no more heroes, indeed. That, perhaps, is why plans to release this album back in 1980 were ultimately abandoned -- that, and the raft of other problems that bedeviled the group through 1980-1981. The tapes were never forgotten, however, and their 2002 re-release, well illustrated and annotated, finally fill in one of the most frustrating gaps in the entire Stranglers catalog.